Politics & Government

NC superintendent rejects protest over reading-tool contract. But fight isn’t over.

The state Department of Public Instruction is sticking by its decision to switch to a new company for testing how well North Carolina elementary school students are reading.

In June, State Superintendent Mark Johnson picked the computer-based Istation program for a three-year, $8.3 million contract to test K-3 students instead of continuing to use Amplify Education’s mClass program. DPI rejected Amplify’s protest of the contract on Friday.

“The people of North Carolina elected me to lead positive change and that is exactly what I will continue to do,” Johnson said Friday in a statement provided by his spokesman.

In its own statement, the Dallas, Texas-based IStation (Imagination Station) said it hopes “the losing vendor” will now accept DPI’s decision.

“It is time to bring closure to this matter so that teachers and students can move forward,” the company said. “Istation is committed to teachers and parents in the years ahead to deliver the results that North Carolina’s students deserve.”

The fight is not likely to end there, though.

Larry Berger, the chief executive officer of Amplify, had said the company would appeal to the state Department of Information Technology if DPI went against it.

Since the Read To Achieve program began in 2013, K-3 teachers have had students read out loud to them using mClass to assess their skills. Under Istation, students will be tested on a computer program, with the results being provided to teachers.

The decision to switch has been controversial, with teachers across the state questioning the change on social media. Istation has said that teachers who are now being trained in the new program will come to like it.

Public records show Johnson overrode the recommendations from an evaluation committee, which he had formed, that said the state should continue to use the mClass.

Johnson has said Istation is the best diagnostic tool for the state to use. He also has criticized the work of the evaluation committee and said there are reasons why Amplify was not picked that he can’t publicly disclose until the company’s protest of the contract is resolved.

N.C. Families For School Testing Reform and the N.C. Association of Educators held a news conference last week asking State Attorney General Josh Stein, State Auditor Beth Wood and state lawmakers to investigate the contract.

A group of 13 Democratic senators has also asked Senate leader Phil Berger to form a Senate committee to review how the contract was awarded. They also want Berger to delay the Istation contract by a year.

In response to the concerns, House Democrats along with a handful of Republicans passed an amendment to a bill on Monday that would let school districts use alternatives to Istation.

In a party line vote, Senate Republicans rejected the bill on Wednesday. A committee of House and Senate lawmakers is working on a compromise to the bill, which is focused on making improvement to Read To Achieve.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.